10 to Watch for 2012

Sheila Dormody

Director of Sustainability, City of Providence



"Change is never easy for anyone. But we’ve got so much commitment from this administration that I’m confident we’re going to be able to take a new course here."

One of our considerations before including the City’s newly minted Director of Sustainability on this list was whether this was a position of some real importance, or simply a “green washing,” a superficial attempt to look eco-friendly. “The fact that they hired Sheila Dormody tells me they’re serious about this,” said one observer of the local environmental movement.

Indeed, she’s got the credentials to back up such an endorsement. She’s made a career in activism, most recently at Clean Water Action, where she was the New England co-director. Now she’ll be tasked with creating a sustainability action plan for the city. “This will be a vision for what it looks like over the next 20 years,” she says.

That vision is one for a city that is not only healthier in the environmental sense, but in the economic one too. “There is no distinction between protecting the environment and protecting the economy,” she says. “These are interwoven.”

As evidence of this connection, she points to Providence’s participation in the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, a national public-private partnership that is training workers to make homes in low-income neighborhoods healthier and more energy efficient. “We’re giving people good jobs that are giving other people a better place to live,” she summarizes.

Other initiatives Dormody will oversee include this coming April’s shift to single-stream recycling – meaning no more separating bottles and cans from paper and cardboard, allowing us to recycle materials we previously couldn’t. Again, the net result is economic as well as environmental, when the city receives revenue from the Resource Recovery Corporation selling recycled materials.

Dormody believes Providence can be at the forefront of urban sustainability, but cautions that we’re already about 10 years behind the national leaders. She will join the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, which boasts about 75 member cities nationwide, and help Providence take part in the Emerald Cities Collaborative, a national network of 10 cities focusing on the nexus of sustainability and economic development. “Now is the time,” she reiterates. “It’s clear that we don’t have the time to waste in making this investment.”

30-Second Bio:

•Is a native of Bristol, CT. (“The Mum Cityour parade was not as famous as the Bristol, RI version, but we did have parade floats covered in chrysanthemums.”)

• Received her B.S. in Special Education from Southern Connecticut State University.

• Lives in Elmhurst with her husband and two cats, Jake and Billy.

•Sheila’s sister Deb Dormody, who runs Craftland, was one of our “10 to Watch in 2010,” making them the first siblings to ever appear on this list.

• In addition to her work with Clean Water Action, Dormody was most recently the co-chair of the Coalition for Transportation Choices, an advocacy group for public transit in Rhode Island

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